GIGABYTE has put quite a bit of work into its UD7 series of motherboards (and there is a UD9 on the way, too). These boards are their upper-end (the cream of the crop) for their enthusiast offerings. They come with a 24 phase power design, USB 3.0, powered USB, SATA 3.0 and Tri-SLI/Crossfire.
GIGABYTE also provides an advanced cooling system for this line of boards. To be honest, the list of features is impressive when looked at on paper. But how does all this work when you drop one of these into a case and turn the power on? That is what we aim to find out. With a price tag of $249.99 at NewEgg.com after a $30 mail-in rebate it should deliver admirably. Now it is time to find out for sure.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
The box is the now typical GIGABYTE package. It is covered from top to bottom with information. It is not a bad thing, but it is almost at the point of information overload. The large '7' on the front lets you know right away that this is one of the UD7 line.
If you open up the front flap you get to see the P55A-UD7 fairly clearly. It is a nice looking board.
the backside of the front flap is a continuation of the front, with more information expounding on the virtues of the P55A-UD7.
The actual back of the box is also more of the same advertisement. Of course, this is not to say that the claims are not true or that they are misleading. I am only saying that the P55A-UD7 has so much going on that they are fast running out of room on the box to tell you about it
Ah, sorry about this slight diversion, but when I pulled the motherboard container out I started laughing. To me it reminded me of a vegetable tray. This had me laughing for more than a few minutes. But, even without the veggies, it is still one tasty looking tray.
The loot you get with the P55A-UD7 is pretty good, you also get a couple of GB unique items. Included with the cables is a single power cable that will allow you to connect a stock SATA drive to the eSATA port without the need to use an enclosure. This is great for transferring information to a new drive or for a quick backup onto another drive.
GB has also included their signature SilentPipe 2 cooling system for the P55A-UD7. This allows you to add some extra cooling surface to the heatpipe system on the board.
Not a bad haul when you think about it.
The GIGABYTE P55A-UD7 follows the same lines as GB's other high-end motherboards. They are all somewhat crowded and seem to be hastily thrown together (though they are not). The P55A is a little different, though. Yes, it still looks a little crowded, but without the usual sense of hasty design. I also have to mention the race car look they gave the Southbridge. Seeing this brought back memories of going to Daytona for the 24 hour race (I usually only watched about 3 hours, though).
The upper half of the board sports a semi-new look. Gone is the gleaming aluminium, it is replaced by a deep glossy grey. The socket color matches the ferrite chokes perfectly. Of course, the area around the CPU still looks a little busy, but overall you can get some decent sized coolers in here.
The 8-Pin 12V Aux connector (always a pet peeve of mine) is in one of the better locations for a GIGABYTE board. It is almost easy to get to when compared to a few others I have dealt with.
The lower half of the board has a number of PCIe x16 mechanical slots, but not all are x16 electrical. The first and third slots are both fully x16 while the second and fourth are only x8. This gives you some good options for SLI and Crossfire including a decent Tri SLI and CrossfireX setup. You can also get a closer look at the race car livery for the SB components.
In the middle of the board is a multi-function cooling system. By default GB is offering water cooling directly on top of the NF200 chip (which also cools the rest of the heatpipe setup. But this can be changed out and the SilentPipe 2 passive cooler put into place.
Although for the most part the I/O ports are typical for a high-end P55 board, the P55A-UD7 also has the ability to charge components while powered off and to even charge your iPad if you happen to have one.
BIOS and Overclocking
The BIOS in the P55A-UD7 is laid well. These images show BIOS version F2, but even with BIOS F5 (the one used for final testing) the layout did not change much.
One of the things that stood out for me was how GB has split everything out into separate pages. This made photographing the pages easy and also lumped the individual settings into more appropriate groups.
Inside the Integrated Peripherals page, there you have to be careful. There are about four different places you have to go to set up your SATA emulation. This is somewhat annoying, but does allow you to add some flexibility into your SATA drive configuration.
Our overclocking experience with the P55A-UD7 was enjoyable. We were able to quickly get the system up to 4.263GHz and stable for an entire run of tests and gaming. We do think that with extra time and a little more tinkering we could get even farther, perhaps breaking our record for the i5 750 test CPU (at 4.4GHz).
We did find that we needed more CPU PLL voltage than normal (we were at 2V Vs 1.92-1.96 that we normally use). But on the opposite side, the CPU VTT voltage was lower.
You can see the validation for the GA-P55A-UD7 and Core i5 750 here.
Although we have covered this software before on other GIGABYTE boards, we have to mention a couple of things with the P55A-UD7. For some reason we could not get the Quick Boost to work; it would start and then, on reboot, the system would not boot into Windows.
Now, this did not affect the other areas of the software and after our boot into Windows at 218x20 was what we used to tweak the system down to a stable clock speed for our testing. It is a great tool for "in-Windows" overclocking and one that has multiple uses (including GPU overclocking in some cases)
As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use, your results may vary. Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Comments
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, GIGABYTE, AMD, Kingston and Cooler Master and Sceptre.
The P55A-UD7 was easy to get setup with the exception of needing to make sure all the SATA ports were set to AHCI for the install. We also ran into a minor problem with our SATA DVD-RW drive being in the SATA 1 port (the Intel SSD was in SATA 0). We ended up needing to move the DVD-RW to SATA 3 to get the install to recognize the SSD without an issue. It was an odd occurrence and not something that we think is a common problem.
The driver install went off without a hitch, but we would like to see GIGABYTE offer their EPU software in the driver package, though. As it is, someone might miss this software during an install and miss out on a great feature.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, Sisoft Sandra, FutureMark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run. To test memory we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2010c 1626
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
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Wow, look at that! - The P55A-UD7 shows some great numbers here for memory performance.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.30.1983
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
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Everest Ultimate is a suite of tests and utilities that can be used for system diagnostics and testing. For our purposes here we use their memory bandwidth test and see what the theoretical performance is.
Memory performance in Everest is also looking good. We are hoping this holds out and we see follow up performance to match.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
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HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
Here we have mixed results. At stock speeds we are not getting that great of a showing. However, when we pushed the CPU the gloves came off and the P55A-UD7 really shines.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we use Sisoft's Sandra and Everest.
The performance delta here from the top to bottom is only around 15MB/s. The P55A-UD7 sits almost right in the middle at 8.9MB/s behind the leader. Not a bad showing at all.
Everest serves to confirm our findings. The P55A-UD7 is right where it should be in terms of HDD performance.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 126.96.36.199
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
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For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
The P55A-UD7 had a decent showing here. It was not the worst, but it was also far from the best.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
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For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. Futuremark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations.
3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. As we are no longer using an NVIDIA GPU for testing (at least until we can get a GTX 4xx card) you will only see the CPU based PhysX results in the scores. For testing we use the Performance test run.
After the issues we saw with PCMark Vantage, the P55A-UD7 comes back for a very good showing at 3DMark Vantage.
Cinebench R11.5 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R11.5 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
The P55A-UD7 did well with Cinebench, too. I would have liked to see a little bit better of a showing, but it is no slouch here at all.
Real-World Tests - Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard; there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
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Looks like the P55A-UD7 would be a good board to use even for workstation applications. Our rendering times with LightWave 3D are pretty good considering the simple (Non-HT) quad core we used. These would certainly improve quite a bit with one of the 1157 Core i7 CPUs onboard.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
The GB P55 does ok with transcoding at stock speeds, but when we pushed the CPU it really began to show how well it was capable of handling this type of workload.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose use multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frames per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
*** A word on gaming as a motherboard test ***
Despite the fact that most games are very GPU limited, we are still noticing HDD and even audio creating issues in gaming performance. Because of this you may see differences in the number of frames rendered per second between different boards. Usually the difference is very small, but occasionally because of bad tracing, poor memory or HDD performance, this difference is significant. The issues are often more prevalent in older versions of DirectX, but can still pop up in DX10 and 11.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (DX9)
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: First combat until the school is cleared
Developer Homepage: http://www.infinityward.com
Product Homepage: http://modernwarfare2.infinityward.com
Most of you know about the game Modern Warfare 2; it caused quite a bit of controversy in the latter half of 2009. The game is a first person shooter with a heavy combat emphasis. It follows the events in the first Modern Warfare very closely and brings back several characters from the original.
As with most games in the Call of Duty franchise, it features a heavy AI load. This is not because of a complex AI routine, but more due to the sheer number of enemies in any given combat situation. It is also our single DX9 based game in our testing suite. Settings are shown below.
With frame rates in the 130-140s we have a hard time calling anyone the "winner" here. The P55A does hold the top spot for FPS when overclocked and at stock manages to out run some of the other boards when they are OCd. The problem is that the delta here is only 13FPS average and 17FPS across the minimum range. At these differences no one is going to notice at all. Still, we chalk this one up to GIGABYTE as a win.
Far Cry 2 (DX10)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal. Unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. Settings we used for testing are shown below.
Again the P55A-UD7 comes out looking like a million dollars. However, once more we see very little difference from top to bottom (only 13FPS average and 10 minimum).
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: From washing up on the beach to the mine fields.
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://badcompany2.ea.com/
Battlefield Bad Company is another sequel and also another game "franchise". Bad Company 2 is also our DX11 Shooter game. The game follows a fictitious B company team on a mission to recover a Japanese defector. This puts you back in World War II (at least for the beginning of the game) while the multi-player game is centered on much more modern combat. For our testing we used the single player mode. Settings are shown below.
Once more we see the GB P55A come out on top, but only by a slim margin (nothing that anyone looking at the screen or actually playing would notice).
As we have said many times, the GPU is going to have the biggest impact when it comes to high-resolution gaming. You will still need to make sure that your motherboard and CPU are not going to slow down your choice of GPU, but for the most part unless there is a serious issue, most boards today are going to do a good job.
Where they will stand out is in the subsystems like memory and HDD performance for level load times and also in the way the onboard audio CODEC handles the sounds from the game. For this the P55A-UD7 does a great job. None of the onboard subsystems are going to slow your gaming performance down.
Power Usage and Heat Tests
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
The GIGABYTE P55A-UD7 is a power thirsty board. We found that even at stock speeds it pulls a (comparatively) large amount of power from the wall. At load things were not any better.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboard; this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
On the heat side of things the P55A-UD7 again was hotter than the rest at idle. However, when we pushed the board the temperatures certainly did not go up as much as on other boards we have tested. This is a good indication that the cooling on the P55A-UD7 can handle the extra heat generated when made to work hard.
After something of a let down from the X58-UD7 performance with the 980X (and the BIOS we were using), I was very pleasantly surprised at the performance of the P55-UD7. It was a solid and quick board.
GIGABYTE has put some effort into refining their top end offerings. This effort certainly shows in the number of working features that they managed to pack into the P55A-UD7. We do wish that GIGABYTE would change their driver package to allow it to install some of their utilities (especially EasyTune and Dynamic Energy Saver 2), but that is nothing that should cause you not to pick up this board.
After our testing we think that the $249.99 price tag at NewEgg.com is pretty close to the mark for what you are going to end up getting. We have no problems recommending this one to you for your Socket 1156 love.
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